Press release 2018-11-23

Increased e-commerce does not exacerbate urban traffic problems

E-commerce is growing fast. However, an ongoing research project in Gothenburg shows that increased online shopping and an associated upsurge in deliveries does not have to lead to a massive traffic increase and congestion in city centres. Instead, the service sector, with vehicles that often remain parked for a long periods of time, is the major challenge in this regard.

Like many other cities, Gothenburg is growing and becoming denser. The optimal vision is a city with attractive environments where it is easy to get by without a car. E-commerce that can replace shopping trips is key to reducing car dependency. But it is feared that e-commerce will also lead to an increased volume of deliveries in residential areas. A common perception is that deliveries cause congestion, and therefore the biggest challenge will be encountered in dense neighbourhoods with high demands for sustainability. However, the study analysed various traffic scenarios for the projected Frihamnen district in Gothenburg and paints a completely different picture.

– Our analysis shows that e-commerce does not lead to significantly more traffic in the city. Even in districts with low car ownership, traffic is dominated by passenger cars, not by lorries delivering goods. In fact, e-commerce deliveries to these densely populated districts are relatively effective from a transport perspective, as almost all e-commerce deliveries are transported to agents, not to end customers’ doors, says Sönke Behrends, a former Chalmers employee who is currently researching urban mobility and sustainable urban development at IVL Swedish Environmental Institute.

When e-commerce shipments are delivered to agents, carriers do not have to drive from door to door. In these districts, end customers rarely travel to and from the agents by car but usually on foot, by bicycle or in connection with commuting to and from work, and therefore do not contribute to vehicular traffic.

Instead, transports used by artisans, property services, cleaners and the like are the principal traffic challenge facing the city. While regular delivery only takes a few minutes, many service vehicles often need to be parked for several hours and monopolize parking spaces all day long.

– The biggest problem is the amount of space needed for parking these vehicles. There is fierce competition when capacity in the city is limited and needs to be used for a variety of other purposes such as public transport, green spaces, outdoor dining or more housing, says Sönke Behrends.

This is a problem that will only get worse in the future when cities expand and become denser. For example, the Gothenburg region is expected to grow by 150,000 inhabitants and 80,000 jobs by 2035. But despite the problems posed by the service sector there is a resounding silence around this issue, according to Sönke Behrends.

– Congestion and parking are among the major challenges when cities are densified. Here we need to develop solutions for service vehicles. How can parking for these services be integrated into neighbourhoods where parking is unwanted? How can these services be carried out without always having to park outside the customer’s venue? These are issues that we must address if we are to succeed in creating cities that are not only accessible and attractive but also sustainable, he says.

This research is part of the DenCity project, which is managed by CLOSER – the national arena for transport efficiency at Lindholmen Science Park and funded by Vinnova. Read the project report here.

For questions, please contact:
Sönke Behrends, sonke.behrends@ivl.se, +46 (0)10-788 67 12

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